My wife and I chatted for a long while after my run around the loop, my shower, etc. The conversation repeatedly turned to our childhoods, which were far more nature-oriented than either of us regularly remember. She grew up in a house with a pond nearby–turtles, geese and raccoons abound. My childhood home was never far from my grandfather’s house, and beside it his garden, his rows of flowers and tomatoes, and the litany of wildlife those things lured.
Suburban as our childhood homes may have been, they were not especially “landscaped” spaces–that is, there were no artfully arranged decorative rocks on beds of woodchips. Each yard had its respective nooks and crannies–spots that, now, I can place on a timeline easily brought to mind but rarely iterated or recited. The corner where I could slip between fences into Tommy’s overgrown jungle of a backyard. The ditch I could hide in during so many pretend chases, pretend shootouts, pretend wars (boys will be boys). Even the spotty patches of grass, between which streaks of dirt and earth lay like a miniature Hazzard County on which Ertl cars could run.
There is a delight for me in uncovering these treasures beneath literal and metaphorical hedges and vines, crinkled leaves, etc. I long ago bored myself of boring others with a small handful of less and less remarkable stories about how I met whom, my first fishing trip, the wild things my young-self was apt to say around the winter holidays, and so on … these tales that are generally acknowledged as the most indicative of my youth and/or personhood–cornerstones of reference for when parent, sibling or friend wishes to tell some new acquaintance a story about me.
And in response I wonder if I wish to insist on a narrative that is not alternative, per se, but more transient, a bit shifty … or if it’s that life simply feels more transient than the childhood bedrock we mine for hilarity can illustrate. Our accumulated days provide us with thousands of conversations and incidents that might reveal something about ourselves, that, upon reflection, could be shaped into doing so no matter how miniscule the moment.
So why merely stick to the grand and hilarious? A turn of phrase, a typical dream or a particular manner of being in an ordinary place, at the most mundane of occasions may paint a great deal–at least as much as the overcharged lines of narrative we so often transmit about ourselves and our crazy families. If given space to narrate, I’ll tell about “a time” more often than I will about “that one time I …”
But then again, who has as much time for our lives and any translation thereof but us–and our significant others? Perhaps this shift in personal, narrative tendencies has less to do with acute learning and more to do with simply being around another person for an extended period of time. Two years of marriage and eight years down the road have dimmed my penchant for telling stories about my dead grandparents every time I get drunk–and I think that’s a good thing. It makes conversations with new strangers more organic than I would otherwise have been able to shape them.
POSTSCRIPT: Looking over this journal entry, I wanted to bookend it by mapping my childhood home–as it was for my father when he was a boy in the 60’s, as it was for me up until 1990, as it is now. I wanted to look at how much pavement and woodwork appeared at the expense of green tree and crop.
Ultimately, the changes don’t look as profound as they felt–e.g., there’s nowhere to play baseball anymore, no willow branches to swing from, less of a hill to sled down even if there are more living rooms and neighbors as a result of the trade. But all that’s saying is that the space is not as much of a playground as it used to be. When I visit now, and watch my nieces doodle at the table on the deck, or scarf marshmallows by the fire pit, the above shift from red to black doesn’t matter at all.